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Communist newspaper L’Humanité fights for survival

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Rightwingers help as hard-left newspaper issues plea to subscribers with court to rule in insolvency case

L’Humanité, which employs 200 people, was founded in 1904 by the French socialist hero Jean Jaurès.
L’Humanité, which employs 200 people, was founded in 1904 by the French socialist hero Jean Jaurès. Photograph: Michael Baucher/Panoramic

The venerable French communist newspaper L’Humanité is fighting bankruptcy, with even rightwing politicians taking out subscriptions to help keep it afloat.

The 114-year-old daily has appealed to readers to support its “great battle” to continue publishing as a court prepares to rule next week on whether it can be saved.

The paper was founded in 1904 by the French socialist leader Jean Jaurès and became the official paper of the French Communist party after 1920. It was an important player in the French press after the second world war, but daily sales have fallen from hundreds of thousands of copies at its height to about 30,000 copies today.

The French government’s system of giving direct and indirect state subsidies to all press titles has benefited L’Humanité, and successive French presidents have sought to ensure the title kept going until now. Its Italian equivalent, L’Unità, folded two years ago.

But the paper’s falling advertising revenue and declining sales have pushed it into crisis. With insolvency proceedings under way, the title is struggling to find solutions.

L’Humanité’s editor, Patrick Le Hyaric, told the Guardian the paper had “an extremely heavy cash-flow problem” because of production costs, falling advertising and subscriptions that do not plug the gap.

He told a court hearing last week it was important to find a way for the paper to continue publishing even if the receivers were called in.

Le Hyaric argued that L’Humanité was part of French media history. “It represents the workers’ movement, the left, the history of France and the republic, the resistance and also a kind of French independence: during France’s opposition to the war in Iraq, the paper backed that position. Whether you’re on the left or right, you can see that if L’Humanité disappears, a part of France will disappear with it: the pluralism of opinions, the confrontation of ideas.”

A L’Humanité banner is raised during Paris protests in May 1968.-File photo AFP

The media historian Patrick Eveno said: “For the past 20 years, all politicians have said it would be a bad message for the pluralism of the press to let L’Humanité die, so [presidents] Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande all took measures to channel state aid and ensure it survived. We don’t yet know what Emmanuel Macron will do. Until now, no French president wanted to be the one who let L’Humanité fold.”

The paper, which employs 200 people, has made an urgent appeal for subscriber support in recent weeks and high-profile supporters from the arts and politics will gather at an event in Paris next month.

Julien Dive, a Picardy politician from the rightwing Les Républicains party, was one of several figures on the right who made a donation and subscribed. He argued it was important to protect a variety of views in media and what he called a “monument of the French media landscape”. He said the paper’s coverage was always “impassioned and different” and it was important for people to read views they didn’t necessarily agree with.

In an editorial, the daily Le Monde warned: “The paper, former mouthpiece of the Communist party, has already been on life support for several years … The new call for readers’ generosity will allow it to gain a few more months but it’s hard to see how L’Humanité can survive in its present form.”

Le Monde said the threat to L’Humanité’s survival was “bad news for the pluralism of the media and for freedom of expression”.

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